Bill Bradley missed a Senate vote on a measure that would have provided protections for Iowa farmers because he was on tour promoting his autobiography, according to documents provided by Democratic sources.
And Bradley's campaign, anticipating an attack from Vice President Gore, disclosed yesterday that Bradley had accepted $900 in federal subsidy payments for his farm in Missouri after voting against the program.
The revelations could add to Bradley's misery in the week before the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses, a contest that once had held the promise of a dramatic upset but now seems to be becoming a higher hurdle for Bradley with each passing day.
Bradley had always known that agriculture would be a troublesome issue for him, since as a senator he represented New Jersey, where farm issues are not dominant. Bradley has acknowledged he does not have "depth of experience" on farm matters but has contended that "doesn't mean I won't be good for agriculture."
He spent a year huddling with family farmers and developing an elaborate proposal for helping them; he has changed his mind to favor tax subsidies for the production of ethanol, a gasoline additive made of corn.
That spadework has been badly undermined, however, since he has spent the last week trying to make up for his failure to rebut a charge by Gore in a debate that Bradley had voted against 1993 flood relief for farmers. Bradley voted for the relief package but opposed an amendment that he believed would have extended the payments to undeserving parties.
The fallout has been a major distraction from Bradley's strategy in Iowa. A recent poll by the Des Moines Register found that 41 percent of the likely Democratic caucus-goers will come from farms or towns of fewer than 5,000 people. When Bradley arrived in Mason City for a town meeting last week, television cameras focused on a tractor with a big sign attacking his farm record--scrawled on the back of a Gore 2000 poster.
Bradley's communications director, Anita Dunn, said the Hug Farm Partnership, which includes Bradley, received $2,150 in federal subsidy payments in 1997 and 1998, and Bradley's share was $900. The 250-acre farm, along the banks of the Mississippi River in his hometown of Crystal City, Mo., is owned by Bradley and a friend from high school.
The partners received flood-relief payments in 1993, but Bradley donated his share to charity, Dunn said. Bradley gave tours of the land when he formally announced his campaign in September.
"This is not anything we've hidden," Dunn said. "In typical political fashion, Al Gore is trying to use anything and everything, no matter how specious, to wage a negative campaign."
Dunn also said Bradley should be credited with voting against "some farm programs from which he could have received a small benefit."
The farm vote that Bradley missed was the Democratic alternative to the Freedom to Farm Act, which small farmers now rue. The bill implemented a fixed, declining crop support payment but gave farmers more flexibility in deciding what to plant than previous subsidy programs had allowed.
Bradley complained last week that the Clinton-Gore administration has not enacted promised protections that were to accompany the law.
But on Feb. 7, 1996, when the Senate defeated by a vote of 63 to 33 a Democratic plan to provide farmers with additional payments during market declines, Bradley was flying between Chicago and St. Louis for book signings for his memoir, "Time Present, Time Past," according to newspaper accounts and a travel disclosure form Bradley filed with the Senate.
Bradley's aides replied that he had a better lifetime attendance record in the Senate than Gore. In calculating the difference, Bradley's staff left out 1989, when Gore had to attend to his son, Albert, who had been hurt in a car accident. Gore's staff did not dispute the difference but said much of it was a result of his campaign for president in 1987 and 1988.
Since the debate, Gore has tried to make hay from the flood-relief vote with a commercial showing Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) saying, "Al Gore was the only Democratic candidate for president who helped make sure that Iowa got the help we desperately needed after those floods."
Bradley replied yesterday with a fat packet of documentation titled "Recent Gore Misrepresentations."
CAPTION: Theresa Bradley, 23, and her father, Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley, share elevator in a Des Moines hotel after campaign appearances.